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US production workers’ union IATSE mulls strike action in contract dispute

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), the union that represents Hollywood’s below-the-line workers, is considering a strike that could potentially disrupt film and TV production nationally.

The union, which has more than 150,000 members working across the US entertainment industry, has been in negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers (AMPTP) after the latest contract between the two expired over the summer.

The IATSE has been seeking better wages and overall working conditions, with members complaining of more than 12-hour workdays as production in the US rebounds to pre-pandemic levels.

The IATSE is also claiming workers on certain “new media” streaming projects get paid less, even on productions with budgets that rival or exceed those of traditionally released blockbusters.

If a strike is authorised and took place it would impact a swathe of unionised film and TV projects shooting around the US and would be the first time Hollywood crews have staged a major walkout since 1945. The authorisation vote could take place towards the end of next week, according to reports.

Numerous Hollywood stars, including Seth Rogan, Ben Stiller, Matthew Cherry and Jane Fonda, have tweeted in support of the IATSE, whose members include grips, cinematographers, editors, costumers and hairstylists.

After negotiations with the AMPTP broke down, the IATSE said in a statement earlier this week: “It is incomprehensible that the AMPTP, an ensemble that includes media mega-corporations collectively worth trillions of dollars, claims it cannot provide behind-the-scenes crews with basic human necessities like adequate sleep, meal breaks and living wages. Worse, management does not appear to even recognise our core issues as problems that exist in the first place.

“These issues are real for the workers in our industry and change is long overdue. However, the explosion of streaming combined with the pandemic has elevated and aggravated working conditions, bringing 60,000 behind-the-scenes workers covered by these contracts to a breaking point. We risked our health and safety all year, working through the pandemic to ensure that our business emerged intact. Now, we cannot and will not accept a deal that leaves us with an unsustainable outcome.

“In response to the AMPTP’s tactics, IATSE members are mobilising in preparation for a nationwide strike authorisation vote to demonstrate our commitment to achieving the change that is long overdue in this industry.”

The AMPTP responded: “When we began negotiations with the IATSE months ago, we discussed the economic realities and the challenges facing the entertainment industry as we work to recover from the economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic.

“In choosing to leave the bargaining table to seek a strike authorisation vote, the IATSE leadership walked away from a generous comprehensive package.”

It comes after a potentially hugely disruptive writer’s strike in the US was narrowly avoided in 2017, when Hollywood writers and the major studios and networks were locked in a contract dispute for months before coming to an agreement.


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